Perhaps one of the biggest questions for Dale Tallon heading into this offseason for the Panthers concerns Tomas Fleischmann, the 29 year old forward who led the team in scoring in both 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. Fleischmann has had a bit of an off year, dropping from 27-34-61 in 82 games and 12-23-35 in 48 games (about .74 points a game for both years) to a dismal 8-19-27 (Fun fact, Huberdeau also has 27 points on the season) in 71 games (.38 points a game). The drop in production is huge. In 71 games this year, if Fleischmann had averaged his old .74 points a game, he would have 52 points, 25 more than his current total. The Panthers have lost 20 games by 1 goal, with Fleischmann playing. Assuming Fleischmann scores when the Panthers need him to, we are looking at a potential 20 more points for the Panthers. This would put them in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference this season.
The drop in production from Fleischmann this year is a huge factor that has heavily contributed to the Panthers decline in the league standings. For a 4.5 million dollar cap hit this year, Fleischmann has been quite the waste of money. (For reference purposes, Tyler Toffoli and Nick Spaling, two players with 27 points on the season, are cap hits of .87 and 1.5 million dollars, respectively. Huberdeau is a cap hit of .89 million. Reversely, David Backes has a cap hit of 4.5 million. He has 53 points.)
So, what does Dale Tallon do with his approximate waste of 3 - 3.5 million dollars of payroll? Fleischmann's 4.5 million cap hit carries over into next season. After the 2014-2015 season, however, Fleischmann is an unrestricted free agent. A regular buyout runs the Panthers 1.5 million in cap hits through the 2015-2016 season. Do the Panthers use one of their compliance buyouts on Fleischmann and free up both roster space and cap space for a prospect? Do they attempt to trade Fleischmann, even though based on his performance this year, they may get very limited return on him? Or do they hold onto him for another year, and hope he returns to form? (Salary data taken from www.capgeek.com)
Big questions for Tallon, and ones that require bigger answers. Taking a deeper look into Fleischmann's decline in production this year may help determine what exactly to do with the former team leader in points. (all stats taken from www.extraskater.com)
The biggest reason for Tallon to try and drop Fleischmann during the offseason would be that Fleischmann is past his prime, and won't come close to producing what he has in the past. This does make sense; Fleischmann is 29. Looking back to how age affects scoring in the NHL, this can be seen, but only to a limited degree. Most NHL players retain 90% of their peak scoring through age 29 before dropping at a rate of about 10% a year. Fleischmann, at the age of 29, should have retained 90% of his scoring. 90% of .74 points per game is .67 points a game. In 71 games, this would equal 48 points, 21 more than what he currently has. Some of Fleischmann's point drop can be attributed to age; but definitely not all of it. However, when looking at how playing style affects aging and points in the NHL, the story gets slightly different.
Production of goals drops off much faster than production of assists. By the age of 36-38, in fact, the ratio is almost 2:1. 80% of assist production is retained, to only 40% of goal production. We start to see this in Tomas Fleischmann from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013. Fleischmann's goal per game ratio dropped from .33 to .25, without seeing a significant drop in points per game between the two years. (.74 to .73) This season, it dropped even further to .11 goals per game. His shooting percentage is heavily indicative of this. After two seasons above the league average (12.4% in 11-12 and 9.9% in 12-13), Fleischmann has dropped to shooting a dismal 4.8%. It can be expected that his shooting percentage will rise back up to around the league average (9%), but for it to come close to 10% again isn't likely. Fleischmann will most likely see his shooting percentage hover around 7-9% next year, increasing his goal totals from this year, but staying consistent with the pattern of decline we see in aging NHL forwards. Basic calculations and guesstimates would put his goal per game total at .22, or about 18 goals on the season.
On the other hand, we also see a drop in Fleischmann's assist totals. After seeing an increase between 11-12 and 12-13 (.41 a game to .48 a game), he has dropped to a lowly .27 assists a game this year. This isn't because his teammates aren't scoring; his on ice shooting percentage (a measure of the shooting percentage of all 5 members of the team while a certain player is on the ice) is at 7.5% for all situations. This may seem low, considering the league average is 9%, until we take Fleischmann's own dismal shooting percentage into account. Looking at the players he has been on the ice with the most, (Bjugstad - 34% of Fleischmann's ice time has been spent with Bjugstad, Goc - 25% TOI w/Flash, and Upshall - 25% TOI w/Flash) we see that all of them are shooting over 8.5%. Bjugstad is shooting 8.6%, Goc is shooting 9.5% on the season (I understand he was traded, but the majority of his games this year were played as a member of the Panthers) and Upshall is shooting 9.9%. All of these numbers are close to the league average; Fleischmann's own shooting percentage brings down his on ice total. Another thing to consider, is that in 11-12 and 12-13, Fleischmann's on ice shooting percentages were 10.3% and 10.6%. He was also playing with Kris Versteeg in 11-12, who shot at 12.7%, and Tomas Kopecky in 12-13, who shot an oddly high 16.1%. (Wonder why Kopecky hasn't produced like he did last year?....) His assist totals this year, then, have gone down because his teammates aren't as good as what he had been playing with. Fleischmann definitely is the type of player who could have an above average shooting percentage (both on ice and personal). His stats from 11-12 and 12-13, then, aren't necessarily inflated, but to say he will return to them may be a bit of a stretch. Again, using base calculations and a lot of guesstimating, Fleischmann's on ice shooting percentage should return to about 9.5% next year. His assists per game should hover around the .37 mark, giving him about 30 assists in 82 games.
Fleischmann's goal totals have dropped due to what appears to be age and bad luck. Even though his goal totals were projected to drop around the age he's currently at, his shooting percentage is at 4.8%, way off his previous totals with the Panthers. As for assists, it would appear that playing with players who have had average seasons instead of exceptional seasons in terms of shooting has caused the drop this season, though age may have played a factor. Overall, this year doesn't seem to be a projection of Fleischmann's future; rather, it seems to have been a very, very off year for him. The guesses for his production next year put him at around 48 points on the season.
In the end, the simplified version comes to this; Is good chance at a 45-55 point season next year from Fleischmann worth the 4.5 million dollar cap hit? Or is that too much to pay for that type of production? And on the reverse side, is the slight chance that Fleischmann gives another lackluster 30-40 point season enough to get rid of him? Or is a good chance at him producing close to his previous totals worth keeping him? The choice ahead of Tallon isn't easy; but hey, if it was, then there would be no reason to have him as a GM.